Last week was a bad one for The Order of the Sky Is Falling (the Hon. Al Gore, founder; Ms. Henny Penny, secretary). TOOTSIF has been riding high ever since Al won an Oscar for his faux documentary about the terrible fate that awaits us all if we don't stop exhaling carbon dioxide and driving SUVs. Devotees, from hysterical television weather reporters to hyperventilating scientists, have announced that the issue is settled. Computer models predicting rising tides, flooded coastlines, melting glaciers and polar bear extinction underscore their conclusion that each of us must reduce his/her "carbon footprint" lest the planet expire from the excesses of industrialization.
Yet, the fall of the sky was by arrested last week by (1) a scientist and (2) some members of the Order themselves.
First, William Gray, an eminent hurricane forecaster based at Colorado State University, told an audience that global ocean currents, not carbon dioxide produced by you and me and all the other humans, is the cause of global warming.
While it is generally accepted that the earth has warmed, on average, about one degree Centigrade over the last century, the computer models that attempt to predict future temperature trends are subject to much dispute, despite the efforts of Gore and the member of TOOTSIF to stifle all dissent.
Professor Gray says that research that attempts to show that humans are causing global warming is "mush." As for hurricanes, he says that increasing levels of CO2 in the air won't bring more or stronger hurricanes. He noted that over the last four decades the number of hurricanes along the Atlantic coast has declined although the level of carbon dioxide has risen.
His conclusion is that the Earth may begin to cool on its own within five to 10 years. Perhaps to his surprise, his remarks were pretty well covered in the media even though they are a direct challenge to the hysterical members of TOOTSIF.
That news came over the wires just as London's Financial Times published the results of its investigation of the "carbon credit" business. Countries that signed the Kyoto Treaty are subject to a carbon emissions protocol (the U.S. did not sign it). The European Union created its own "emissions trading scheme" for regulated industries. "Carbon credits" are given to producers of carbon dioxide for reducing the level below that which had been permitted. "Carbon offsets" are the purchase of someone else's credits to offset one's own production of CO2. together, the FT says, these added up to a $22 billion business in the first nine months of 2006.
When the UK's Barclays Bank decided to go "carbon neutral" its environmental manager was surprised at how many brokers had sprung up to offer to help the bank. "It's a carbon gold rush," he told the FT. "It's very easy to set yourself up as a carbon offset provider. It's a booming industry."
The FT's investigation was of UK and EU companies. Human nature being what it is, the same problems will develop here, such as the purchase of worthless carbon credits that do not result in any reduction of CO2; brokers charging much for little service; verification obstacles; companies getting carbon credits for efficiency gains from which they have already profited (double-dipping).
In sum, here is what TOTSIF has wrought: a complicated set of schemes drawing more and more companies into it, at ever greater cost when, if Professor Gray (and several other leading climatologists such as MIT's Richard Lindzen) insist that we didn't cause the current global warming and there is not a lot we can do -- short of stopping breathing -- to change it. In due course, Mother Nature will take care of both.